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Marine Life & Conservation

Communities invited to help better understand rare shark species in Wales

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People of all ages can dive into marine conservation and learn about the extraordinary sharks, skates and rays living in Welsh coastal waters, in a new project which gives diverse local communities the chance to be part of a ‘green recovery’ in Wales.

Launched on 23 February 2022 by the Zoological Society London (ZSL) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Project SIARC is enlisting the help of fishers, schoolchildren, researchers and citizen scientists from across Wales to better understand some of the more unusual coastal species, such as the angelshark (Squatina squatina) and common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca), listed as Critically Endangered and Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species respectively.

The project has received a £390,000 grant from the Welsh Government’s Nature Networks Fund which was delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as a £180,997 National Lottery grant from National Lottery Heritage Fund and £40,000 grant from On the Edge.

The Welsh coast is home to a range of marine life, including 26 species of sharks, skates and rays – a group known as elasmobranchs. Elasmobranchs are an important part of Wales’ natural heritage, with significant conservation and cultural importance. Despite this, little is known about their biology and ecology.

Although community engagement and research will be focused at two Special Areas of Conservation (SAC): ‘Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau’ and ‘Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries’, Project SIARC offers a wide range of free in-person and online opportunities, from learning how to identify elasmobranch eggcases, to helping detect sharks in underwater video footage, and scouring archives for historical information. In addition, Project SIARC will identify opportunities and break down barriers to ensure a wider range of people from diverse backgrounds are able to access and get involved in marine conservation.

This engagement will be complemented by research led by Project SIARC scientists in the SACs, which includes taking water samples to detect elasmobranch DNA, deploying underwater cameras to assess what elasmobranchs and habitats are present, and working closely with fishers to gather information on the focal species.

Joanna Barker, Project SIARC Senior Project Manager, ZSL said: “We are delighted to launch Project SIARC with our partner organisations to showcase the incredible elasmobranchs found in Wales. Project SIARC combines biological and social sciences to address critical data gaps for elasmobranchs in Wales whilst generating a new appreciation for the underwater marine environment. Currently, few people in Wales can witness these amazing species first-hand, but we hope that the Project SIARC citizen science opportunities, school engagement programme and outreach will bring the underwater world to your doorstep and enable a wider range of people to be involved in marine conservation in Wales.”

Several organisations are helping to deliver Project SIARC, including Bangor University, Blue Abacus, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Swansea University and The Shark Trust. It is also supported by an additional nine organisations that sit on the Project SIARC Steering Group.
Project SIARC is an expansion of Angel Shark Project: Wales, which was set up in 2018. Data gathered as part of Angel Shark Project: Wales evidenced the importance of the Welsh coast for angelsharks and was used to develop the Wales Angelshark Action Plan.

Jake Davies, Project SIARC Coordinator, NRW said: “Project SIARC grew from people’s input and enthusiasm for Angel Shark Project: Wales. Communities started sharing exciting information about all sorts of sharks, skates and rays, which provided new insights on the ecology of these little-studied species. That meant we could develop Project SIARC – their input was incredible. For Project SIARC, we will use similar techniques to better understand how angelshark, common stingray, spurdog and tope use Welsh waters and how they interact with habitats protected by two of Wales’ largest SACs.”

School children are also encouraged to get involved. Project SIARC will scale up the success of online “meet the scientist” sessions from Angel Shark Project: Wales, to reach thirty schools across Wales. The project will also work with ten schools around Carmarthen Bay to try their hand at 3D printing shark models, which will be used to educate the next generation about elasmobranchs.

Mr Griffiths, Headteacher at Ysgol Gynradd Nantgaredig said: “We are very excited to get involved in Project SIARC, it will be extremely valuable for our year five class to learn about sharks, skates and rays living off our local beaches. We are particularly keen about the prospect of introducing industrial digital technologies, such as 3D printing, as a tool to reinforce teaching on sustainability, biodiversity and art. It will enable the children to really connect with the environment around them and understand how much we all rely on the natural world.”

Ben Wray, NRW Project SIARC Manager & Marine Ecologist added: “Co-led by ZSL and NRW, Project SIARC is part of a wider integrated approach in Wales driven by the Well-being of Future Generations and Environment Acts. This recognises that resilient ecosystems are fundamental to the well-being of people in Wales. By re-connecting people with nature, we can support improvements in mental health and well-being as well as encourage better stewardship of our seas and reverse the decline in biodiversity. It also highlights the interconnections of global environmental issues, such as the climate and nature emergencies.”

Anyone currently living or residing in Wales can get involved with Project SIARC by visiting www.projectsiarc.com or following the work on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

The Shark Trust is the leading UK-based shark conservation charity. The team works globally to safeguard the future of sharks, and their close cousins, the skates and rays. Engaging with a global network of scientists, policymakers, conservation professionals, businesses and supporters, to further shark conservation. Established in 1997 to provide a voice for UK sharks, the Shark Trust has an ever-growing number of passionate supporters. And together we're creating positive change for sharks around the world. Want to join us and help protect sharks around the world? Click here! www.sharktrust.org

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Diving with Frogfish in Costa Rica: A Hidden Gem Underwater

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In the vast and vibrant underwater world of Costa Rica, there’s a peculiar creature that often goes unnoticed but holds a special place in the hearts of divers: the frogfish. This enigmatic and somewhat odd-looking species is a master of camouflage and a marvel of marine life. Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is not just a dive; it’s an adventurous treasure hunt that rewards the patient and observant with unforgettable encounters. Let’s dive into the world of frogfish and discover what makes these creatures so fascinating and where you can find them in Costa Rica.

The Mystique of Frogfish

Frogfish belong to the family Antennariidae, a group of marine fish known for their incredible ability to blend into their surroundings. They can be found in a variety of colors, including yellow, pink, red, green, black, and white, and they often have unique spots and textures that mimic the coral and sponges around them. This camouflage isn’t just for show; it’s a critical survival tactic that helps them ambush prey and avoid predators.

One of the most remarkable features of the frogfish is its modified dorsal fin, which has evolved into a luring appendage called an esca. The frogfish uses this esca to mimic prey, such as small fish or crustaceans, enticing unsuspecting victims close enough to be engulfed by its surprisingly large mouth in a fraction of a second. This method of hunting is a fascinating spectacle that few divers forget once witnessed.

Where to Find Frogfish in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is dotted with dive sites that offer the chance to encounter these intriguing creatures. Bat Islands (Islas Murciélagos), Catalina Islands (Islas Catalinas), and the area around the Gulf of Papagayo are renowned for their rich marine life, including frogfish. These sites vary in depth and conditions, catering to both novice and experienced divers.

The key to spotting frogfish is to dive with a knowledgeable guide who can point out these master camouflagers hiding in plain sight. They’re often found perched on rocky outcroppings, nestled within coral, or even hiding among debris, perfectly mimicking their surroundings.

frogfish

Diving Tips for Spotting Frogfish

Go Slow: The secret to spotting frogfish is to move slowly and scan carefully. Their camouflage is so effective that they can be right in front of you without being noticed.

Look for Details: Pay attention to the small details. A slightly different texture or an out-of-place color can be the clue you need.

Dive with Local Experts: Local dive guides have an eagle eye for spotting wildlife, including frogfish. Their expertise can significantly increase your chances of an encounter.

Practice Buoyancy Control: Good buoyancy control is essential not just for safety and coral preservation but also for getting a closer look without disturbing these delicate creatures.

Be Patient: Patience is key. Frogfish aren’t known for their speed, and sometimes staying in one spot and observing can yield the best sightings.

Conservation and Respect

While the excitement of spotting a frogfish can be thrilling, it’s crucial to approach all marine life with respect and care. Maintain a safe distance, resist the urge to touch or provoke, and take only photos, leaving behind nothing but bubbles. Remember, the health of the reef and its inhabitants ensures future divers can enjoy these incredible encounters as much as you do.

Join the Adventure

Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is just one of the many underwater adventures that await in this biodiverse paradise. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or taking your first plunge, the waters here offer an unparalleled experience filled with wonders at every turn. Beyond the thrill of the hunt for frogfish, you’ll be treated to a world teeming with incredible marine life, majestic rays, playful dolphins, and so much more.

So, gear up, dive in, and let the mysteries of Costa Rica’s underwater realm unfold before your eyes. With every dive, you’re not just exploring the ocean; you’re embarking on an adventure that highlights the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our marine ecosystems. And who knows? Your next dive might just be the one where you come face-to-face with the elusive and captivating frogfish. Join us at Rocket Frog Divers for the dive of a lifetime, where the marvels of the ocean are waiting to be discovered.

About the Author: Jonathan Rowe

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Marine Life & Conservation

Save the Manatee Club launches brand new webcams at Silver Springs State Park, Florida

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Save the Manatee® Club has launched a brand-new set of underwater and above-water webcams at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, FL. These new cameras add to our existing cameras at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, in Homosassa, Florida, which are viewed by millions of people worldwide. The cameras are a collaboration between Save the Manatee Club, Explore.org, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who made the new live streaming collaboration possible via support of their interpretative program.

The above-water camera is a stationary pan/tilt/zoom camera that will show manatees and other wildlife from above water, while the new underwater camera provides the viewer with a brand new, exciting 180-degree viewing experience. Viewers can move the cameras around, trying to spot various fish and manatees.

The Silver River, which originates at Silver Springs, provides important habitat for manatees and many other species of wildlife. Over recent years, more manatees have been seen utilizing the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers. “The webcams provide a wonderful entertainment and educational tool to the general public, but they also help us with the manatee research,” says Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. “We have learned so much through observing manatees on our existing webcams, and the new cameras at Silver Spring can add to the existing manatee photo-ID research conducted in this area, as well as highlighting Silver Springs and the Silver River as an important natural habitat for manatees.”

The webcams are streaming live during the daytime, with highlights playing at night, and can be viewed on Explore.org and on Save the Manatee Club’s website at ManaTV.org.

Save the Manatee Club, established in 1981 by the late renowned singer-songwriter, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, along with former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is dedicated to safeguarding manatees and preserving their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit savethemanatee.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

Photo: www.avalon.red

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